Pancreatic Cancer

Current Projects
Chenxi Tian, PhD

Dr. Tian studies pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). PDAC is characterized by an extremely stiff texture, which is caused by accumulation of excessive extracellular matrix (ECM). The compositions of ECM, known to have major effects on tumor progression, are not well understood in PDAC disease. She aims to identify global ECM changes during PDAC progression by proteomic approaches, and to investigate how these changes impact cancer progression. The uncovered ECM of PDAC will provide novel insights into diagnosis, prognosis and treatments of this very difficult disease.

Project title: "Understanding the roles of extracellular matrix proteins in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma progression"
Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Named Award: Sherry and Alan Leventhal Family Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Richard O. Hynes, PhD
Cancer Type: Pancreatic
Research Area: Invasion and Metastasis
Heather L. Yeo, MD

The cost of gastrointestinal cancer care in older adults is high, and hospital readmission after major GI cancer surgery can be particularly costly. The Center for Medicare Services (CMS) estimates that around 75% of these readmissions are preventable. For these patients, early warning signs for dehydration, infection, or other complications, if noted earlier, would allow physicians to intervene and prevent readmission. Dr. Yeo, a surgeon, has worked with programmers from Cornell Tech Campus to develop a Mobile Application (iPhone or Android compatible) for patients undergoing abdominal cancer surgery. The app tracks patients’ mobility and prompts patients to input quantitative and qualitative data regarding pain, fluid status and dietary factors in order to allow physicians to intervene earlier as needed. She is currently piloting the app for feasibility and usability, and improving the user interface so that physicians can use the app to monitor and improve patient care. The next step is a prospective randomized study to evaluate the utility of this mobile app in the prevention of readmission, thus enhancing physician-patient interactions, decreasing costs and, most importantly, improving patient care.

Project title: "Use of mobile applications to evaluate post surgical recovery in aging patients with GI cancer"
Institution: Weill Cornell Medicine
Award Program: Clinical Investigator
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Manish A. Shah, MD, and Deborah Estrin, PhD
Cancer Type: Gastric, Other Cancer, Colorectal, Pancreatic
Research Area: Outcomes Research
Roberto Zoncu, PhD

Cancer cell metabolism differs from that of healthy cells because cancer cells have extreme requirements for energy. An organelle inside the cell called the lysosome has recently been defined as a “metabolic signaling center,” which senses cellular nutrient levels and communicates them to a growth regulator protein called mTORC1. Dr. Zoncu proposes to synthesize novel molecules that can specifically disable the lysosomal-mTORC1 signaling pathway as a new means of starving cancer cells and thus blocking tumor growth. He will investigate how this pathway controls the function of the lysosome and another organelle, the mitochondria, in mediating the resilience of cancer cells to challenges such as starvation, hypoxia and chemotherapeutic drugs. This research may impact all cancer types, but particularly pancreatic and lung cancers, which appear to be uniquely sensitive to levels of mTORC1.

Project title: "Identifying and disabling organelle circuits that fuel cancer cell metabolism"
Institution: University of California, Berkeley
Award Program: Innovator
Cancer Type: Lung, Pancreatic
Research Area: Cell Biology
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